Roasting has to be my favourite way of cooking vegetables (closely followed by grilling). The oven brings out the best flavours in veg and all you have do is drizzle over a bit of oil and bung it in there. Times are changing, but roasting is not a particularly Dutch way of preparing veg. Compared to, for instance, the English, the Dutch traditionally cook things on the hob rather than in the oven. Of course I am not a food historian but I am a Dutchman with an interest in food and I think I can safely say that. For me this changed when, over twelve years ago, I met The (lovely) Eastender, who showed me how to properly use an oven.
Now I thought I had roasted pretty much every vegetable but when I spotted a recipe for a ‘scorched’ leek risotto, I realised I was wrong. And intrigued.
I came across this recipe in a Dutch cookery book called ‘I Love Groente’ by Janneke Vreugdenhil. I made it and liked it, but felt it needed something. It was a bit too understated for me and I felt there weren’t enough contrasts, both flavour and texture-wise. Having said that, there’s no arguing about taste and I think it’s a wonderful book for both vegetarians and carnivores.
It took me a few tries to get this risotto just right for me (and hopefully for you). First of all, I added a bulb of garlic to my baking tray when I roasted the leeks. I still think it’s a small miracle that you can achieve such depth of flavour by simply putting a bulb of garlic in the oven for 30 minutes.
At first I didn’t want to add heat because I wanted the clean flavours of the roast veg to take centre stage. But after cooking the risotto a few times, I realised that a hint of heat would only make those flavours sing louder. To achieve this I fried the shallots in chilli oil.
Then I wanted to add more texture. I thought of putting in fried mushrooms but decided they wouldn’t add crunch or real chew. So I went with pine nuts, although I think walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts would also work here.
I also subbed the white wine (I generally use rosé wine anyway, just because there is usually a bottle of that in the fridge) with madeira. Initially, I was afraid it would just add to the sweetness of the roast garlic and leeks but it actually complements it, and the saltiness of the parmesan provides enough contrast.
And finally, for symmetry’s sake, I added slices of spring onion at the end, just so I can say there are three members of the onion family in there (shallot, leek and spring onion), all prepared differently. And because the mildish flavour of the spring onion works in this risotto, of course. I could have also added chives but that would have been showing off.
If you have really sandy leeks, you can chop them just above the ‘split’ (see photo above) and make a vertical cut. Just run under the tap to get the sand out. I wouldn’t worry too much, though; you will end up chucking the first two/three layers anyway.
2 large leeks, most of the green removed
1 bulb of garlic, left whole
3/4 tbsp pine nuts
chilli oil (if yours is very hot, a mixture of that and regular olive oil)
2 large shallots, finely chopped
175 g risotto rice
generous splash/5 tbsp of madeira
1 litre hot vegetable stock (you can freeze any left-over stock). Make sure it stays hot while you cook the risotto.
zest of 1 lemon
50 g (vegetarian) parmesan, grated
1 or 2 spring onions, finely sliced
salt and pepper
– Brush leeks and garlic with olive oil and roast for 30 minutes on 200°C on a lined tray.
– Take the garlic out and roast the leeks for 10 minutes longer if necessary. The skin should be slightly scorched.
– Squeeze the puree out of the roast cloves of garlic.
– Remove the tough layers of the leek (usually the first 2 or 3) and slice the softened ‘flesh’ inside. You will need a sharp knife for this.
– Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts until they turn golden brown.
– Heat the oil in a shallow pan with a thick bottom and fry the shallots till translucent.
– Add the rice and stir for a few minutes until the grains turn glassy.
– Pour in the madeira and stir until it is almost absorbed.
– Add a ladleful of hot stock, stir until almost absorbed, add another ladleful, stir, etc. Keep doing this until the rice is almost cooked (about 15 minutes).
– Stir in the garlic puree and leek and keep stirring for a few more minutes (adding stock if needed) until the rice is cooked to your liking.
– Turn off the heat. Stir in parmesan and lemon zest and season well with pepper and salt.
– Serve sprinkled with the pine nuts and slices of spring onion.